Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949

By Glenn Feldman | Go to book overview

5
The Political Klan

In many ways, the political split that eventually manifested itself in Alabama--between pro- and anti-Klan factions--could trace its lineage to deep and abiding divisions within the state. For years a coalition of privileged Black Belt planters and their industrialist allies in Birmingham and Mobile had had an iron grip on state politics. Challenges from poor whites, sometimes with black allies, periodically threatened patrician control over state politics but never for very long. Black Belt whites, through a combination of force and fraud, exercised absolute control over the large black vote in their counties from Redemption in 1874 to the disenfranchisement constitution of 1901. Afterward, a malapportioned legislature helped perpetuate their disproportionate influence in state politics, especially legislative politics. The Big Mule and Little Mule allies of Birmingham and Mobile, respectively, accepted malapportionment largely because it guaranteed them, as coalition partners, a prominent place in state politics; accurate representation of their relatively heterogeneous ethnic, religious, and working- class populations would have been riskier. The coalition--variously known as the Bourbons, the Redeemers, the patricians, the oligarchy, the bosses, and so forth--favored the maintenance of a strict status quo that perpetuated its domination of politics, labor, race, and economics until the racial crises of the 1960s.1

Alabama's political split was largely sectional.2 Oligarchical power rested in the fourteen Black Belt counties, which had large black populations and fertile black soil that formed a band from east to west across the southern half of the state. The planter-industrialist alliance of course also included the industrial and commercial counties of Jefferson and Mobile. Challengers to the alliance--whether in the form of Reconstruction Republicans, 1880s

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